PLAYER RATINGS | Freiburg 3-2 Lens: Impressive comeback eliminates Les Sang et Or from Europe

The opening leg of RC Lens and SC Freiburg’s Europa League clash had been an entertaining but goalless tie, which left it all to play for as Les Sang et Or visited Stade Europa-Park. 

It was a tentative start for both sides as caution perhaps took control of the occasion. Lens began to grow into the game as they attacked the wings and looked to whip in a cross towards Elye Wahi. 

However, very little was on offer for much of the first half, and the game needed a mistake to spark into life. As has happened so often for a team that has conceded 15 in their last five Bundesliga games, a lapse of judgment undid Freiburg’s efforts. 

Freiburg’s goalkeeper Noah Atubolu leapt for Przemysław Frankowski’s freekick but misjudged the flight of the ball. His catch quickly turned into a punch which fell directly into the path of David Pereira da Costa whose shot swept into the net to put Lens into the lead. 

On the brink of halftime, another mistake from the hosts increased the pressure on them. Manuel Gulde challenged a long ball to Wahi and like his goalkeeper before him mistimed his jump falling to the floor and allowing the forward to steam from the halfway line into the box where a delightful dinked shot over Atubolu doubled the lead for Lens. 

Freiburg made an attacking double change at half time bringing off the centre-back Kiliann Sildillia and full-back Jean-Victor Makengo for the winger Noah Weißhaupt and forward Michael Gregoritsch. Unable to rest on their laurels, the hosts looked to control possession and carve out a route back into this game. 

The hosts will perhaps point to the eventual non-decision as a particularly cruel moment in the game as Abdukodir Khusanov’s heavy tackle on Merlin Röhl was deemed to not be worthy of another look, despite the Lensois getting none of the ball and all of the attacker. 

The injustice only fuelled Freiburg forward as they maintained pressure on the Lens defence their every attack an urgent move to rescue this game. A freekick from Ritsu Dōan provided a lifeline for the German side, the ball ricocheted around the box until Roland Sallai latched onto the ball and finished with a powerful strike. 

It was defence first for Lens as they attempted to weather the final stretch of the storm that had been brewing since the second half began. They attempted to break up play with clever fouls that broke the momentum and frustrated the Freiburg players to distraction, but it was to no use as Freiburg in injury time completed their second-half comeback as Sallai scored his second. 

The trouble for Lens only worsened as they let a tie that they looked in control of during the first half slip away in extra time. The substitute Gregoritsch rounded Samba to shoot into the open net and put Freiburg into the lead for the first time, and with 15 minutes left Lens would need something special to rescue their European adventure. 

Lens pushed forward with more conviction than they had during a second half where they had allowed themselves to sit deep and let the hosts build momentum. However, it was not to be and Lens who had been so close to progressing to the next round of the Europa League painfully missed out. 

Lens player ratings

Brice Samba, 7 – The captain had kept his side in the game with an excellent performance that at times smothered hope for Freiburg but it was not enough, and an approach that had allowed the hosts to build momentum eventually was too much for Samba to prevent. 

Facundo Medina, 6  Despite the eventual scoreline he had a good game organising a defence that looked like it had weathered a second-half storm but was eventually undone. 

Abdukodir Khusanov, 5 

Jonathan Gradit, 6

Jhoanner Chávez, 5

Neil El Aynaoui, 6 

Salis Abdul Samed, 6

Przemysław Frankowski, 6

David Pereira da Costa, 5

Elye Wahi, 7 – A constant threat up top providing pressure on a Freiburg defence that struggled to cope with him in the first-half. Eventually, his presence faded, but in general it was a good game for a forward who has not always excelled at his new side. 

Florian Sotoca, 6

Freiburg selected ratings 

Noah Atubolu, 3 – A terrible night for the goalkeeper where he looked extremely nervous. A litany of errors offered Lens opportunity to increase their lead and undo the second-half efforts that Freiburg had managed to salvage. 

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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